There were all sorts of promises made during the recent New York presidential primary, but no one revived the 1928 Republican slogan “A chicken in every pot.” Democrat James F. Capalino could have delivered, however—at least to 25,000 pots in Manhattan. That’s the number of fryers that Capalino, the city’s commissioner of general services, had available to give away.
They were part of an 11 million-pound shipment of surplus frozen chickens the U.S. was selling to the Soviet Union. But when the trade embargo was put into effect after the Afghanistan invasion, the birds were diverted to state agencies. Hearing about them, Capalino hatched a plan to bring the chickens home to roost, er, roast. After phone calls to Albany, two huge semis with $38,000 worth of poultry were dispatched to Capalino. The birds were quickly distributed to hospitals, prisons and old-age homes. And the cost to the city was just chicken feed—a mere $850 for transportation.
At 29, Capalino is the youngest commissioner in Manhattan’s history. Born in upstate Williamsville, N.Y., he was by 16 helping to run a $1.3 million summer youth employment agency in Buffalo. “We took 5,000 kids and put them to work cleaning parks and buildings,” explains Capalino. While at Colgate he was a summer intern for then Rep. Bella Abzug, and in 1973 signed up with then Rep. Ed Koch and later became his assistant. Last winter Mayor Koch asked Capalino to review the notoriously inefficient General Services Agency, which purchases $1 billion worth of goods and services for the city every year. After delivering a scathing report to the mayor, Capalino was appointed to his $54,000-a-year job.
So far he hasn’t been caught with egg on his face. And he’s laid claim to other surplus products—$900,000 worth of peanut butter, shortening, dried milk and fork lifts. But the chicken coup is what Capalino is really cackling about.